Learn the first steps of photo editing with this essential guide to the Crop Tool in Photoshop. Plus, discover more advanced features to take your editing skills further.

Cover image via FabrikaSimf

As one of the basic practices of photo manipulation, the Crop Tool is a core feature of Adobe Photoshop. It’s simple and straightforward, but it also includes many deeper functions for fine-tuning or altering the dimensions, shape, and the contents of your images.

First we’ll walk through the main functions of the Crop Tool. Then we’ll look at some ways to use it for more complex techniques.

Stop, Crop, and Roll

Cropping is intentionally changing the dimensions and size of the overall image. An easy, one-step way to change an image’s impact is to crop it differently than the original. Cropping lets you edit out subject matter (or lack thereof) on the outer bounds, thus bringing the edges closer to a preferred viewpoint.

Use the Crop Tool to:

  • Remove extra space that distracts from the focal point
  • Zoom in to tighten the composition and emphasize a subject
  • Change the shape or orientation to create a different composition

Wise use of cropping is the first way to add impact to your images. In short, skillful cropping technique takes experience and practice. But we can use some fundamentals, as well as some features in Photoshop to make cropping easy and yield cool results.

Basic Cropping

If you have an image with a lot of stuff going on, you can crop it down to place more focus on one of the subjects. Let’s begin by opening an image in Photoshop and hitting C on the keyboard to select the Crop Tool. This brings up a different menu in the Options bar at the top.

For maximum decluttering and general ease of use, I like to use this full screen mode: View > Screen Mode > Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar

Basic Photo Editing: How to Use the Crop Tool in Photoshop – View Image in Full Screen Mode
Image via everst

Settings and Options for Cropping

On the corners of the image (zoom out if you can’t see the corners), there are handles. Click and drag any one of them to shrink the cropping frame. Then grab the others to adjust the cropping frame on the subject. You can also click and drag the image within that box.

Basic Photo Editing: How to Use the Crop Tool in Photoshop – Crop to a Ratio

Sometimes you’ll need to crop to a specific ratio, for instance if you’re creating an image to use on a Facebook post which has set dimensions. Click the Ratio dropdown menu and choose from the many useful presets. You can also enter specific values in the fields to the right of the menu. This will lock the crop box to that ratio when adjusting.

Basic Photo Editing: How to Use the Crop Tool in Photoshop – Crop to a Ratio

To select an overlay to help with composition, click on the grid icon. You see these options pop out.
Basic Photo Editing: How to Use the Crop Tool in Photoshop – Set Cropping Grid
For most projects, the Rule of Thirds option will help you place subjects in a generally pleasing composition. Other options help with different composition types. Diagonal and Triangle help place subjects in images with angles, such as mountains or other natural topography. You can also get wacky and use the Golden Spiral, if you’re using conceptual or complex imagery.

Basic Photo Editing: How to Use the Crop Tool in Photoshop – Commit to Crop

If your image is large and high resolution like this one, you can crop way in to isolate a small subject. To commit the crop, hit Return/Enter. If you want to start over, hit Escape.

Tip: In the options above, you can select or de-select Delete Cropped Pixels. With this option checked, you will permanently delete the parts of the image outside the crop area when you commit. If it’s not checked, you will be working with a preview of sorts, or a temporary workspace. The image size will not change unless you permanently delete.

Advanced Cropping

Content Aware Cropping and Resizing

You can reverse-crop an image to make the trim larger than the original image area. You can choose to replace the empty space with a background or foreground color, or you can check Content Aware in the options menu above.

This is a really great, and sometimes crazy, feature in Photoshop. It will “build” a replacement image based on the pixel information adjacent to the area selected. In certain instances it seamlessly creates a background where there was none. In others instances it looks glitchy and weird (or wonderful). Experiment with this feature but as a general rule of thumb, the less clutter the program uses to fill in empty space, the more realistic it will look. Content Aware is recommended for empty sky or other smooth areas, or just use it in small amounts.

Here’s what happens when we re-extend an already cropped image with Content Aware checked:

Basic Photo Editing: How to Use the Crop Tool in Photoshop – Content Aware Cropping

Straighten

You can straighten an image along a line you draw. This can be handy when dealing with an image that’s askew. Click the Straighten option in the Options bar. Then draw along a structure in the photo that you want to represent as straight. Photoshop will adjust the image to align with that line.

1. Find crooked image

Basic Photo Editing: How to Use the Crop Tool in Photoshop – Straighten Image

2. Click the Straighten icon, and drag a path to adjust to. You’ll get a preview when you release the mouse button.

Basic Photo Editing: How to Use the Crop Tool in Photoshop – Draw Line to Straighten Image

3. Hit Enter/Return to commit

Basic Photo Editing: How to Use the Crop Tool in Photoshop – Straighten Image

Image via guteksk7

Perspective Cropping

For distortion correction and perspective modification, this is an alternative tool to the standard Crop Tool. To access it, click and hold the Crop Tool in the Tool bar, then choose the Perspective Crop Tool. Draw your crop area. Then, use the corners to adjust the perspective instead of the crop area itself.

Adjust the corners so the grid lines approach or match the objects in the image. For instance, in this image, I want to decrease the perspective angle, i.e. stretch the top of the image to make it look less distorted, so I’ll pull the corners in. When I hit Return/Enter to commit, the corners will snap to the original position, stretching the image out at the top and decreasing the effect of perspective.

Basic Photo Editing: How to Use the Crop Tool in Photoshop – How to Do Perspective Cropping

Cropping is one of the easiest and most useful photo editing techniques to learn. It can completely change the composition of a photo in just a few steps, and it’s especially useful when you’re creating images that need to be set in specific dimensions.


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